Artist fined for writing hundreds of words in chalk on Belfast streets

By Nevin Farrell – 24 March 2015 Belfast Telegraph

An artist fined for writing hundreds of words in chalk on the streets outside Belfast City Hall said it was the second time he had done so – but last time he wasn’t prosecuted.

Christoff Gillen had already written the word ‘love’ about 200 times along Donegall Place as his artwork wended its way towards Ulster University’s art college campus.
While his road to the Art College on York Street was paved with good intentions, council wardens moved in and hit him with a £60 fine under anti-graffiti laws.
Gillen said that 12 years ago he had inscribed the names of more than 3,672 victims of the Troubles around City Hall with chalk – which took in excess of 20 hours.
But on that occasion, he was not fined.

Gillen (46), originally from Armagh but now living in Belfast, described it as a performance and had it filmed and posted the video on social media.
He said he was taking part in an international festival of live art and a friend gave him a pop-up ‘rainbow hat’ which got him to think about gay issues.
Ninety minutes into the ‘performance’, Gillen said a member of the public began accusing him of daubing graffiti before police and council officials arrived.

The artist said: “I explained I was doing this to create a rainbow of love to highlight the inequality as myself and the rest of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community in Northern Ireland are being treated differently with the equal marriage bill.
“I would say there were at least a couple of hundred when I was stopped.”
And he added: “Personally I would rather not pay the fine on principle but I went to the University of Ulster and my former tutor and students are doing a collection and because I feel obliged by that – it is going to be paid under protest.”

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said: “The fine was issued after the person informed our warden that he intended chalking the word ‘love’ 1,000 times across city centre streets (without seeking prior permission) and under no circumstances could we allow him to do that.
“We have issued one fine for graffiti under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2011, Part 4 (Graffiti and defacement section).

“This part of the act refers to the Roads NI Order which states that ‘Painting, making marks (chalking) or displaying advertising on the road (or pavement) is classified as graffiti or defacement’.
“Belfast City Council continually engages with communities across the city through a range of projects to instil a sense of pride in their neighbourhoods.”


Photo: Some of the words he wrote on the street.